Friday, 5 July 2013

Vauxhall Firenza HP 'Droop-Snoot'

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

It's not often you get to drive one of the hero cars of your childhood, but opportunities sometimes present themselves, and these are occasions to be grabbed with both hands and made the very most of. Vauxhall's Heritage fleet in Luton contains all manner of treasures; SSBB regulars may remember my schoolboy excitement at driving the mkII Astra GTE and various others recently, although the crowning glory of the collection is this, the HP Firenza.

The car is in near-concours condition, looking as if it's just rolled off the forecourt in 1975, and yet I was positively encouraged to go and wring its neck around some winding country lanes. This was very good news. There are a lot of such lanes just outside of Luton, and a bendy ribbon of undulating tarmac is the HP's natural habitat - its precise steering and predictable handling make short work of swooping, hedge-lined scenery.

There are many things that are jarring and strange about the droop-snoot Firenza. It’s got a dogleg gearbox. The indicator stalk’s on the wrong side. The recessed dials are j-u-u-u-s-t canted away from you, so you can’t quite see how fast you’re going. (Indeed, some kindly soul has affixed stickers to the speedo to remedy this.) And yet, this concatenation of oddities conspire to create something unique, thrilling and, without wanting to gush too hideously, just perfect.

The Vauxhall Firenza is, of course, a classic beauty. Any idiot with eyes can see that; there are no bad angles, it’s just a glorious, sublime form – elegant and brutal in equal measure. But it’s the way it drives that (unsurprisingly) defines it. It’s just bloody astounding. That wacky gearbox click-clacks like a rifle bolt when you shift gears, and those barking twin carbs throw fuel enthusiastically into a 2.3-litre slant-four that’s as tight as a drum, firing the power to a hilariously waggy tail. The Firenza’s light weight helps here – in particular that there’s seemingly no weight at all over the back axle – and kicking the back end out is a piece of cake. The cavernous glasshouse makes the teeny coupe feel incongruously spacious, which inspires all the confidence you need to fulfil your Gerry Marshall fantasies down the lanes; this is pure point-and-squirt motoring. Frequently sideways. I’m totally, unashamedly, irretrievably in love with this car. It seems somehow absurd that a hooligan like me was allowed to drive it...

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